Spain's art capital is also the best place in Spain to find all regional cooking in one spot. As one of Europe's most underrated destinations, Madrid is home to both architectural excellence and lively public squares. In this Madrid travel guide, we will outline some of the top things to do, foods to eat, and beverages to drink while in this great city.
Madrid is the second biggest city in the European Union with over 3.2 million people (second to Berlin with 3.6 million). Despite its size, the quaint neighborhoods of Madrid such as Lavapies, La Latina, and Sol give it a small-town charm.
Things to do in Madrid:
1. Parque de El Retiro
Parque de El Retiro is one of the largest parks in Madrid, previously under ownership of the Spanish Monarchy until the late 19th century when it became a public park. Wandering through the greenery and beautiful architectual layout is a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the downtown streets.
Fun Fact: Parque de El Retiro can be translated as "Park of the Pleasant Retreat".
Top Stops Within The Park
Parque de El Retiro is huge! Some of the most famous spots within the park that you do not want to miss are: Monument to Alfonso XII, Fuente de las Esfinges, Palacio de Velázquez, Palacio de Cristal, and La Rosaleda (the rose garden). No need to jot these down, we have all of them saved to our Spain Map that you can download and use while on your trip!
2. Plaza Mayor
This historical pubic square located in Madrid's city centre is surrounded by historical buildings, restaurants, and cafés with outdoor seating. Plaza Mayor is the center of Madrid's life and culture. We were able to experience the celebration of Dos de Mayo Uprising or "Second of May Uprising"where Spain successfully defended itself against the invading Napoleon troops in 1808. The celebration includes a free concert with multiple local artists that perform throughout the day!
Tip: You'll find Plaza Mayor come to life in the evenings as locals take their evening paseo (walk) through this square.
3. Sabatini Gardens
The neoclassical gardens of Sabatini are located on the northern side of the Royal Palace of Madrid. These gardens are free to the public and offer a beautiful urban oasis to cool off after a day of exploring in the Spanish heat.
4. Catedral de la Almudena
When the capital of Spain was transferred from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the new capital needed a cathedral, so Almudena Cathedral was built. The building has a mixture of styles that are interesting to witness (neoclassic exterior, gothic revival interior, and a neo-romanesque crypt). Being the largest church in Madrid, Catedral de la Almuedena is certainly worth a visit.
Hours & Admission
The Catedral de la Almudena is open daily from 10am to 8pm September to June and from 10am to 9am July to August. Admission to the cathedral is free with a suggested donation of 1 euro per person.
5. Museo National del Prado
The Prado Museum contains an expansive art collection that dates from the early 12th century to the early 20th century and is based on the former Spanish royal collection. It contains notable masterpieces by renowned artists such as Goya, El Greco, and Diego Velazquez. Prepare to be amazed and possibly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of beauty housed within the walls of Spain's main national art museum.
Hours & Admission
The Museo Nacional del Prado is open from Monday to Saturday 10am to 8pm and Sundays from 10am to 7pm. You can enter the museum up to 30 minutes prior to closing and tickets are 15 euros for adults (5 euros in addition for an audio guide, 2023 pricing). Free entry times to the museum are from 6pm - 8pm on Mondays through Saturdays and 5pm - 7pm on Sundays/Holidays.
6. Royal Palace of Madrid
While Spain's current royal family does not permanently live within the Royal Palace, it is still worth stoping by to admire its architectural and historical grandeur. This palace housed the kings of Spain from the mid-1700s to 1900s and contains a total of 3,000 rooms.
Hours & Admission
The Royal Palace of Madrid is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 7pm and Sundays from 10am to 4pm (April to September). Winter hours (October to March) are 10am to 6pm Monday through Saturday and 10am to 4pm on Sundays. You can enter the museum up to 60 minutes prior to closing and tickets are 12 euros for adults (5 euros in addition for an audio guide, 2023 pricing). Free entry times to the palace are from 5pm - 7pm (4pm - 6pm winter) on Mondays through Thursdays for EU citizens.
7. Mercado de San Miguel
An excellent place to stop for a quick snack is Mercado de San Miguel. This market, dating back to 1916, contains a variety of options to suit all taste buds including seafood stalls, artisan bakeries, butchers, tapas bars, and other stalls with fresh ingredients. It can get busy during lunch hour so we recommend arriving early to beat the crowds.
Looking for a less touristy market? Head to San Fernando Market for a lively atmosphere that is very local.
Hours & Admission
Mercado de San Miguel is free to enter and is open to the public from 10am to Midnight Sundays through Thursdays. It is open Fridays, Saturdays, and holiday eves from 10am to 1am.
8. Calle de la Cava Baja
Stretching a quarter of a mile long in the heart of the Barrio de La Latina neighborhood, this popular tapas street is decorated in lively colors. Head down this street and sample a variety of Spanish cuisines. One thing we absolutely loved about Madrid is that the foods you will find within the city are a melting pot of Spanish cuisines from all different regions.
9. Royal Basilica of Saint Francis
Step inside this basilica for outstanding artwork intricately designed into one of the largest domes in the world. Gaze upon the masterpieces throughout the chapel and even purchase a guided tour to learn its history. This large basilica is hard to miss when exploring the west side of Madrid. Make sure to wander its exterior gardens for beautiful flowers and scenic city views.
Also Read: Barcelona Spain Travel Guide
Hours & Admission
The Royal Basilica of Saint Francis is open daily from 8am to 10:30am and Sunday's from 10am - 1:30pm and 6:30pm to 8pm. From Tuesday to Thursday you can purchase a guided tour of the basilica for 5 euros/adult (or free on Thursdays!)
No day of exploring is complete without some delicious foods to top it all off. Madrid has a variety of unique eateries to try, and is the perfect melting pot of Spanish cuisines from regions throughout the country. Some of the best times to indulge in tapas are from 1pm to 3pm and 8pm onwards.
J&L Top Picks
La Barraca - Best Paella in Madrid
Bodega de la Ardosa & Juana la Loca - Best Tortilla de Patatas in Madrid
Casa Julio - Best Croquettes in Madrid
Chocolateria San Gines - Best Churros con Chocolate in Madrid
Taberna al Sur - Best for Jamon Iberico
Casa Revuelta Latoneros - All Around Tapas
When in Spain, the brews of choice are made with espresso beans. Europeans have perfected the art of strong coffee and we are here to make sure you know how to order correctly. Make note of the below verbiage based off of your preference:
Café solo: espresso only
Café con leche: half espresso, half milk
Café cortado: espresso with a splash of milk
Café americano: half espresso, half hot water
Carajillo: espresso served with rum, whiskey or brandy!
When it comes to happy hour, some of the must-try drinks in Andalucia are Sangria (red wine mixed with fresh fruits), Tinto de Verano (red wine mixed with lemonade), Fino or Manzanilla (dry/white sherry wine), Vino de Naranja (white wine macerated with orange peels), Rebijito (sherry wine mixed with lemonade or lemon-lime soda), and Vermouth (white wine fortified with herbs and spices and aged in barrels).
For the beer lovers who want to grab a cold glass on a hot Spanish afternoon, try the local favorites: Cruzcampo or Alhambra Lager. We found one of the most popular ways to order a beer in Spain is by asking for "una caña" (roughly a half-pint). This is the perfect size to sample alongside some tapas. Alternatively, you can also order "un doble" (full pint) or if sharing, "una jarra" (pitcher).
J&L Top Picks
Taberna al Sur - Tapas & Drinks
Cerveceria 100 Montaditos - Tapas & Beer
Fabrica Maravillas - Craft Beer
Pez Tortilla - Tapas & Drinks
La Tape - Tapas & Craft Beer
Planning Your Trip
How many days do you need in Madrid?
In order to have enough time to complete the top things to do in Madrid, we recommend spending at least two full days. Of course, you can spend much longer sampling tapas and visiting museums, however, two full days will allow you to visit many of the top sites of Madrid. While many people view Madrid as "just another big city" we can assure you that the local charm of each neighborhood within Madrid makes it feel quaint and small. Madrid is certainly worth visiting for several days throughout your Spain travels.
J&L Recommended: Weekend Getaway
What month is best to visit Madrid?
To take advantage of the pleasant weather while experiencing a minimal amount of tourists, the best time to visit Madrid is on the shoulder seasons of April-May and September-November.
J&L Recommended: April - May and September - November
Which part of Madrid is the best to stay in?
We recommend staying in the neighborhoods of Lavapies, La Latina, or Sol. These neighborhoods are full of charm and character. They also allow you to easily walk to all attractions outlined in this guide.
J&L Recommended Lodging: Ok Hostel Madrid or Hostal Abadia Madrid
Use the search box below to select your travel dates and find great deals on hotels in Madrid.
Is Madrid expensive as a tourist?
One of the perks of visiting such a large city is that there are a variety of options that cater to every budget. Compared to other big cities in Europe, we found Madrid to be very affordable and budget conscious. With delicious street food and most main attractions offering certain times or days for free entry, Madrid is a great city to visit for budget travelers. Below is a breakdown of our average costs while visiting Madrid:
Hotels: $120 - $200 USD/Night
Hostels: $50 - $100 USD/Night
Price Per Meal: $5 - $20 USD
Transportation: $2 - $5 USD
Budget Tip: Sign up for an international credit card (most sign-on offers waive the first year's annual fee). You can earn points towards travel, as well as, avoid international transaction fees!
Getting Around Madrid
What is the best way to get around Madrid?
Transportation around Madrid is easy with metros, buses, bikes, and taxis. We found ourselves only using public transportation to/from the airport. Once in the city center, most sites are easily walkable.
View maps and current pricing for transportation throughout Madrid here.
How do I get from Madrid airport to the city?
Take the C1 or C10 RENFE metro towards Pyramids from Terminal 4 to Puerto de Atocha. The journey takes 30 minutes and costs 2.6 euros (2023 pricing). Make sure to buy your tickets at a RENFE ticket machine (red) and not a metro machine.
Download our Spain Map for all of our Madrid recommendations pinned to your Google Maps!
Did you find our guide helpful? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!